In Duo with a Swallow: Our Convent’s Choir on Their Tour across the UK

“I serve in our Convent’s sisterhood and I have been singing in the sisters’ choir for about a year,” says Alexandra. – Both religious and secular people often wonder how this can be possible: nuns and sisters of mercy travel around Europe and give concerts. And we are answering: our performances are not just tourism, but preaching, prayer and support for the charitable projects of St. Elisabeth Convent.

The concert program consists of two sections: liturgical chants and spiritual poems. The text of each work praises God, directly or indirectly. And though we sing in Church Slavonic, Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian, the English-speaking audience understands everything, because music is a language that does not require translation.

For example, after one of our concerts in London a guy came up to me – an Englishman who was interested in surfing and who had nothing to do with the Church. He came up with tears in his eyes and said: “Thank you, I have never been so close to God.” It is very important to receive such feedbacks, and not because we need praises, but because the Lord shows us by this that all our efforts are not in vain. We are an instrument in His hands, and the world needs such a form of preaching as well.

Giving a concert is not an easy task, because on the stage we have to be not only choir singers, but also real entertainers. Everything is important here: how you stand, how you hold the folder with notes, how you open your mouth, whether you watch the chorister’s gestures carefully, whether you live through the music you play. We learn all of this at joint rehearsals, which begin a few months before the concerts.

We start solving organizational issues of each concert tour even earlier. It is necessary to agree on the performance venues, to seek the support of the abbots of the churches where we will give a concert, to organize a large-scale advertising campaign, to think over the schedule, and to solve logistics issues. It is a hard work, and without the help of our friends, both in Minsk and in the UK, we would not be able to organize these events so successfully.

Each concert trip is a new precious experience for us. Despite the fact that within the framework of one tour we perform the same program every day, every appearance on the stage is unique for us. Each time we live through the texts of prayers and spiritual poems in a new way. But the main thing is that at every concert we communicate with a new audience. In general, in such trips you get a great joy from meeting with the Man. Many people of different cultures and religions come to our performances. You can talk for a long time with one person, and just a minute with another, but even within this minute you can really see Christ in a person – great love and beauty. And this is such an inspiration! It makes you want to live purer and work harder. We can only hope that the Lord touches the hearts of these people and shows them the way through communication with us.

It is always especially pleasant to see familiar faces within the audience. We are familiar with some of them from the fall concert tour, and we have known others for many years, and they are our family already. Therefore, being in Foggy Albion, we feel like home.

The schedule of concerts is usually organized in such a way that we have some free time. Sometimes we visit sights. For example, the September concerts were best remembered for a visit to one of the colleges of Oxford University. It happens that you can wander around the city parks and streets for several hours, and London never disappoints you in this regard. Hyde Park, Regents Park, Portobello Road… So much beauty and inspiration on every street corner!

But this trip is also remembered for the concerts in small English cities, especially Shaftesbury. You walk down the street, and it seems like Chesterton’s father Brown is going to appear on an old-fashioned bicycle, or Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are going to pass by leisurely. The walls of the houses and pavements are imbued with the spirit of old England. And what wonderful churches we were lucky to perform in! During one of them, the swallows, which accidentally flew inside, sang along with our ensemble, and for a second I felt like a character of a Charles Perrault tale or of a favorite Disney cartoon…

Wales has won us with his hospitality. In one of the Orthodox parishes of Cardiff, we sang liturgy together with the sisters. It is common abroad that in order to perform the sacrament of the Eucharist a community has to rent a space from a Catholic parish for Sunday, and this Wales community is not an exception. There is simply no possibility to build its own church or pay for permanent rent of a separate space. But the Lord is everywhere so even in a typical West Christian interior there was a sense of the triumph of Orthodoxy. This parish is multinational, Father Mark (the abbot) gathered around him both Russians, Belorussians and Englishmen. The community received us so warmly that for a few hours we forgot that almost two and a half thousand kilometers separated us from home.

One of the highlights of this trip was also an acquaintance with the Catholic priest Paul Broufi, in whose church we gave our last concert. Father Paul is an amazing person: kindhearted, extroverted, cheerful and, like every Welsh, he loves music in all of its forms. He has a huge collection of old musical instruments, the sound of which he demonstrated us after the performance. And he even did a duet with our chorister, matushka Maria Bakhvalova.

It was a little sad to leave the UK. However, as one famous ballad tells – there will be reunions after parting, and we hope that it will happen very soon.

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